Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson
As Will Rogers famously said, “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.”
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson detail how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers organized business interests to block progressive legislation in the 70s. This involved both the long affinity between corporate America and the Republican Party and intensive lobbying efforts to dissuade moderate Democrats from voting for progressive legislation in the Senate during the Carter administration.
The first part of the book outlines the contrast between the American economic and political scene after World War II and the 70s with the scene in the past 30 years. Most of this material repeats what has been shown in study after study. The authors counter the usual explanations of the change in a CSI detective style, showing that such things as education and technology do not explain the concentration of power and wealth that has occurred.
What has happened, according to Hacker and Paul Pierson is the strengthen organization of corporate America led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and the weakening of organizations which represented a broad spectrum of middle America. The authors describe how the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers successfully lobbied to block labor laws and business regulations during the Carter administration when progressives thought that a Democratic President, Senate and House would enhance regulation of environment and work and product safety as well as eliminate impediments to labor organizations. They also describe how corporate America has transformed the Democratic Party from a pro-working class party to a pro-business party, albeit perhaps not quite as pro-business as the Republicans.
Part of the reason for corporate success in Washington is attributed to the decline in participation in labor unions and a variety of middle American organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and service clubs such as Lions, Shriners and Rotary clubs all of which did provide middle America with a more unified voice in the 1940-60s.
The authors also detail the fact that, at least in the late 1970s it wasn’t necessary for the corporate interests to enact new “business-friendly” legislation or to repeal older legislation; all that was necessary was to block passage of progressive legislation. We have seen this strategy repeated both during the Clinton administration which was unable to get health care reform passed. Doing nothing was all that the health care segments required. We have also seen it in 2009 — the Republicans do not need to pass anything for corporate America. All they have to do — and they have been very successful in this — is to block progressive legislation either by threat of filibuster in the Senate, or in committee, or in the 112th Congress the House. And, in either case, we have minority rule.
Hacker and Pierson do not go into great detail about the role of corporate America money in political campaigns. For that side of the story you should read Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig.
The authors conclude the book with a conclusion “Beating Winner-Take-All” which I must confess is rather disappointing. Having identified the problem as being the effective political organization of corporate America to oppose progressive legislation and even to roll back progressive laws, Hacker and Pierson focus more on the difficulties of getting the tens of millions of middle Americans organized to oppose the corporate takeover of the political system of America. The opposition will require that middle Americans once again organize themselves to speak in Washington — and I might add in their state capitals.
I recommend this book for those who want to have a better understanding of the American political scene today.